The Seag­ull never nails the tone

Are we in 19th-cen­tury Rus­sia, or just a fan­cy­dress ver­sion of it?

The London Free Press - - TODAY - RE­VIEWED BY CHRIS KNIGHT NA­TIONAL POST On the Web Watch a trailer for The Seag­ull on YouTube.

His­tory records that the open­ing-night per­for­mance of An­ton Chekhov’s The Seag­ull in 1896 was a dis­as­ter.

So maybe there’s hope for this lat­est cin­e­matic adap­ta­tion, which fea­tures a stel­lar cast in an earth­bound pro­duc­tion.

Fame-wise, Saoirse Ro­nan and An­nette Ben­ing head the sprawl­ing drama­tis per­sonae.

Ro­nan plays Nina, a young ingénue con­sid­er­ing a life on the stage but un­cer­tain if she has what it takes.

Ben­ing is Irina, an ac­tress whose fame and beauty may be fad­ing, but not her ego. She’s con­vinced she could still play a teenager if given the chance.

There is a man in each woman’s life.

Nina is in­fat­u­ated with Irina’s son Kon­stantin (Billy Howle, who coin­ci­den­tally plays Ro­nan’s fi­ancé in this sum­mer’s Ch­e­sil Beach), while Irina has a long­time re­la­tion­ship with Boris (Corey Stoll), though that is threat­ened when Boris takes a shine to Nina.

Un­re­quited ro­mance is the ma­jor theme here.

The melan­choly Masha (Elis­a­beth Moss) also longs for Kon­stantin but wants noth­ing to do with the school­teacher (Michael Ze­gen) who is clearly in­fat­u­ated with her.

Irina’s ail­ing brother (Brian Den­nehy) is dis­ap­pointed that he never mar­ried.

Even the ser­vants have their lusty de­sires.

There’s more than enough plot and act­ing tal­ent to go around, but di­rec­tor Michael Mayer, work­ing from an adap­ta­tion by screen­writer (and play­wright in his own right) Stephen Karam, can’t quite nail the tone.

Are we in 19th-cen­tury Rus­sia, or just a fancy-dress ver­sion of it?

Some of the di­a­logue comes off as de­cid­edly mod­ern — “Want some?” Moss asks, of­fer­ing the snuff that is just one of her sub­stance ad­dic­tions, and Ben­ing refers to “spe­cial ef­fects” in her son’s play — while other scenes feel twee as they strive to recre­ate speech pat­terns of old.

Things come to a head at the bar­rel of a gun. (It’s Chekhov; what did you ex­pect?)

Kon­stantin, jeal­ous and up­set over his mother’s crit­i­cism of his work, tries to take his own life.

Ear­lier, he had gone hunt­ing for a bird — a grey speck­led metaphor, I think it was — which he presents to Nina as a grotesque gift.

It’s all very faith­ful to the play, which may iron­i­cally be one of its prob­lems.

The Seag­ull may leave you want­ing to watch a live per­for­mance rather than this filmed one; just one more ex­am­ple of un­re­quited

The Seag­ull

(out of five)

What: Adap­ta­tion of An­ton Chekhov's The Seag­ull di­rected by Michael Mayer

Star­ring: An­nette Ben­ing, Saoirse Ro­nan, Corey Stoll, Elis­a­beth Moss Clas­si­fi­ca­tion: PG

Where: Hy­land Cin­ema, 240 Wharn­cliffe Rd. (519-913-0312) (See Movieguide, Page

Saoirse Ro­nan and Corey Stoll star in The Seag­ull.

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